Where Can You Camp?
Switzerland seems like it would be the ideal place to pull over in a remote area and set up camp with your campervan. However, in most places, you cannot set up your campervan on the side of the road unless it is for an ‘emergency,’ and even that comes with some stipulations. What counts as an emergency? Say you’re driving and you’re too tired to make it to an official campsite, and you need to pull over in a parking lot to sleep – that’s fine. If you do pull over in one of these emergencies, you can not just pull up on the side of the road or off-road to the middle of a field. I recommend, instead, you find a large pull-out, parking lot, or something safely away from the road and away from private property. Furthermore, you’re not supposed to look like you’re camping. While cooking a meal in your campervan fine, you shouldn’t set up a table and chairs, crack out the wine, boombox, pop the top of your camper and rock out. It is also illegal to offroad with your car.
The Park4Night app is an excellent resource for these situations and will help you find a safe and legal place to spend the night nearby.
Regional Canton rules may differ, but, regardless of the Canton, wild camping is not allowed in National Parks, Nature Reserves, Game Reserves, farmland, private property, or protected areas. The potential fine for breaking the law can be up to 10,000 CHF. Furthermore, wild camping in a campervan can damage the local ecosystem and increase waste in the region. As a general rule of thumb, I would stick to designated camping sites and areas and use the app in an emergency.
How to Find a Campsite
Switzerland has some great campsites that you should be utilizing. They have a wide variety of sites ranging from plots on a small bio farm to large campsites great for the whole family. Check out my itinerary for all the great campsites we stayed at along the way. But, if you are going to different areas or my recommendations are full, then the following are great websites to help you find a campsite:
- Campspace.com – a site for rustic natural campsites
- Pitchup.com – a site for a wide variety of campsites
- Googlemaps.com – type campsite into search and look for places in your areas.
- Park4Night.com – an app for places to park overnight, primarily for one night without facilities.
- TCS is the major Swiss camping company with large campgrounds places around Switzerland
Most sites cost between 30 CHF, on the cheaper side, and 50 CHF on the more expensive side. Electricity is usually a few CHF per night in addition to the base cost. Whereas mobile homes and cabin rentals are much more expensive, with prices well over 100 CHF per night. Of course, prices vary by location and type of camping site you book.
Reservations & Plan B
I highly recommend you make reservations if you are traveling in the summer and have a specific spot you want to stay. However, some of our favorite places didn’t take online reservations, and you’ll need to arrive after check-in to snag a spot. In this case, I recommend arriving shortly after check-in, and also having a plan B, either another campsite or use the Park4Night app.
We like to plan our campervan travel with a mix of bookings with a few unplanned breaks in-between. This means we will book a few nights at a campsite to secure one of our favorite locations and leave a night or two between the next booking to find a more rural spot with the P4N app. But, if you’re someone who likes to have things booked and secure, you’ll want to plan. With the rise of road trips, mobile homes, and camper van travel, and camping in the post-pandemic world, campsites will be increasingly busy during the summer months. So, book when you can, and always be ready to go with the flow.
Most campsites in Switzerland offer the following services:
- Toilet, showers, and waste facilities
- Fresh potable water
- Holiday cabins for rent
- Space for tents, RVs, campervans
- Playground or activities for younger kids
- Restaurant/bar or options to buy meals
- A small shop for essentials
- Access to or recommendations for tourist activities in the area
- Pet friendly for those bringing pets from the EU (pets from 3rd countries require specific paperwork, please see local rules for your specific situation)
- A ‘car’ wash
- Laundry facilities
- Dishwashing area
- Rec or indoor reading room
Other Information about Campsites in Switzerland
- Switzerland uses a J plug. While some camping sites had electricity for an EU plug, we needed a J adapter for a few places. Our campervan came with an adapter, but if you don’t have one, I recommend asking at reception as a few places offered an adapter for rent with a deposit.
- Most places in Switzerland recycle. Make sure you sort your rubbish into the glass, aluminum/carton/plastic, bio, and paper.
- You can pay by credit card. Many places charge you on your way out in case you add anything to your bill. However, some places will take payment with online booking or when you check-in.
- Especially in the French Cantons, you can order daily bread from the reception. You will need to do this the night before and pick up your fresh baguette in the morning.
- Most Swiss water is potable. So, you can fill up your water bottle from the bathroom taps unless otherwise stated.
- Most receptionists at the large campsites spoke English. However, some of the smaller sites in the French Cantons only spoke French.
- Plots were smaller, more packed, and less aesthetic compared to sites in other countries we’ve taken our campervan. While you’ll have room for an awning, table, and chairs, you won’t be able to go all out and set up too many extras like shelters, hammocks, and such.
Pandemic Guidelines (2021)
- All campsites required masks in enclosed areas such as toilet stalls, reception, bars, restaurants, etc.
- Sanitizing stations are stationed throughout the campsites.
- Most places had capacity limits for bathrooms and shower facilities, often closing every other shower
- Most facilities were cleaned regularly
- Your EU contract tracing app does work in Switzerland. I recommend this to anyone coming from the EU.
- Have your proof of vaccine or negative test ready to show based on current and local guidelines
- Overall we were happy with the level of hygiene by guests and campground staff – however, some were better than others and there were always those select few not wearing a mask. It is important to take health and safety seriously so we can continue to enjoy camping in a pose pandemic world.
It is your responsibility to know all guidelines and health restrictions for each Canton. You can find the latest information on the Swiss Government’s health website, including restrictions on those coming from non-EU 3rd countries.
Gas and Dumping
Most campsites will have room for you to dump grey water, flush your cassette-style black water, and fill your water tank. However, some of the smaller or more rustic sights may not have this option. There are a few gas stations with dumping facilities, but I recommend you just wait until you’re at a campsite with these services as they are quite convenient.
Camping Gaz is the most common type of gas used in campervans in Europe. If you are running low ask reception if they carry CG, or use the Camping Gaz location finder to find a replacement tank.
Supermarkets & Food
Coop is the most common supermarket in the region. I recommend searching for them to re-supply your food. One of the benefits of renting a German-owned Road Surfer is buying groceries in Germany, where things are much cheaper. Otherwise, budget for Swiss supermarket prices. We also stayed at a few farms and rural areas and always made sure to get eggs, bread, and cheese from them directly to stimulate rural economies.
Weather & When to Visit
I mentioned in Rules of the Road that most mountain passes are only open in summer. Then in Rules of the Camp, I said that during summer campgrounds are going to be crowded. So when is the best time to visit? Is summer too crowded? Will I miss you on the mountain passes in the off-season? For the best of both worlds, I recommend visiting in early June or late September to try summer activities such as hiking with agreeable weather, but avoid the densest crowds.
We did our big campervan trip in May, and while the mountain passes were closed, we still had a great time enjoying hiking, paddleboarding, and sightseeing with minimal crowds, making May and October also great times to visit. Having done a mountain pass in mid-summer when driving from Munich to Italy I can say it is a spectacular experience, but I prefer to avoid crowds. So, just determine what is important to you. Germans go on holiday in August, so I caution against August travel without securing bookings as large family groups will likely be traveling from Germany.
We had a tiny bit of snow at high elevations in early May, but very few people.
- May and October: Minimal crowds, closed mountain passes, fewer families, a better chance of staying at your dream campsite, some snow possible, colder temperatures especially at night, more availability on excursions like trains, gondolas, etc.
- June and September: Average crowds, open mountain passes, more family travel, agreeable weather.
- July and August: Peak summer crowds, lots of families, warm weather, the possibility of overbooked campsites
- Winter: Great for skiing/winter activities, snow tires and winter driving skills required, van heater a must, fewer people camping, but winter tourists visiting ski towns, possible temps below zero, ice and snow on roads.
What to Pack
If you visit during the shoulder seasons in May or September – October makes sure you pack base layers, warm clothing, and blankets for your campervan. I recommend hiking gear, waterproofs, and layers no matter the season as it can get cold in higher elevations. We also made use of:
- Bicycles with panniers for sightseeing trips
- Outdoor lights
- Colder weather gas for shoulder-season
- Rain boots